Original painting by Pauline Krieg
Have you ever wondered why hockey is such a dominating presence in the U.P.? Or, how it all started? Over a century ago a building was erected in the Copper Country, and the sport spread across the U.P.. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is saturated in hockey history, and it all started in Calumet- a place that stakes claim to the world’s oldest indoor ice arena still in use, The Calumet Colosseum, built in 1913.
Hancock High School is believed to have integrated the first black man on an organized hockey team in 1904. This 1904 photograph is thought to be the first documented evidence of a black high school hockey player. According to Copper Country Hockey History [cchockeyhistory.org], “This picture is so unique, that it is on display in the US Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth, Minnesota.” Census shows there were several families living in this area at the time with the last name of Black.
That same year the IHL was formed and the Palestra Arena was built, giving birth to the first professional hockey league in the United States. Before the entire arena relocated to the corner of 3rd and Fair in Marquette, inmates had been organizing exhibition games on an outdoor rink at Marquette Branch Prison. The very first ‘Winter Classic’ was created against the rival visiting team: The 1954 Detroit Red Wings. By 1969, we welcomed the first female professional hockey player, and since then kept this sport alive in our community, for generations to come.
Mid December marked the 111th anniversary of the Palestra Arena’s grand-opening. The first hockey game was played in Laurium, MI at this iconic arena on December 16, 1904.
Originally built in the Copper Country and later moved to Marquette, the Palestra was the first building in the world built specifically for the use of hockey. It utilized the all-too-familiar elements of cold U.P. winters to freeze a flooded rink, featuring an entirely natural ice surface.
Early on, it was home to the Marquette Sententials, and in the 1960s the Marquette Iron Rangers became a professional hockey team coached by Ironwood-native Leonard “Oakie” Brumm. Brumm, a college all-star athlete, was an employee at Marquette Branch Prison, and organized an exhibition game between the Detroit Red Wings and inmates at Marquette Branch Prison.
Before his death in 2006, at Schloegel’s Restaurant in Marinette, WI, MarquetteIronRangers.com interviewed Oakie Brumm as he recalled the fan-player interaction at the arena during Iron Rangers’ games, “The fans were very involved,” said Brumm.” There was no Plexiglas between the fans and the players. A lot of times the opposing players would go into the boards and the fans would grab their sticks.”
The Palestra’s fervent peak was likely in 1969 when Oakie Brumm hired 18 year old Karen Koch as the Iron Ranger’s goalie. Koch is known as the ‘first female professional hockey player in the world’. Because of her undeniable abilities, her integration into the sport generated a lot of national press attention. Koch once received a standing ovation after denying a ceremonial shot opposite of Green Bay’s city mayor, a former player.
Koch was prematurely let go from the Rangers after insubordinately removing her mask after games, often enticing uproar from the visiting crowd. She was later barred from participating in men’s organized professional hockey.
Another notable Palestra historical tidbit: A year before its dismantling, the arena was home to future NHLer Jack Carlson and his brothers Steve and Jeff, who became famous for starring as the Hanson Brothers in the beloved cult-flick Slap Shot.
That following season, the Palestra was replaced by nearby Lakeview Arena. Today, the Berry Events Center stands in its place. Lakeview was home to the 1991 NCAA National Champion NMU Wildcats, Youth Hockey National Championships, Highschool State titles, and so much more. Today, it’s the home of the newest team, The Marquette Royales, and a rebirth of the Iron Rangers. The Carlson brothers, just this winter, revisited the area for the team’s ceremonial opening.
The Royales are named for a historic National Park just north of Marquette, MI on Lake Superior. History is all around them, passed down from just a few generations of hockey lovers, the unsung founders of the sport. It all happened a century ago, and it’s still alive and well in the U.P. today. Hockey continues to play a dominating role in cultural life in the Upper Peninsula, because, we created it.
The first hockey game was played in the Laurium Palestra Dec 16, 1904 between Calumet and Portage Lake.
Palestra | December 16, 1904 FACTS:
- Outside Temperature: Below Freezing
- Inside Temperature: Same
- Population of Copper Country: 4,668
- Arena’s Maximum Seating Capacity: 4,000.
- Game Attendance: 3,000
- Score: Calumet 4, Portage Lake 3